The 2013-14 year was the most successful season to-date for the California State University, Stanislaus men’s basketball team as the Warriors topped out in wins (21) for the season and won their first ever California Collegiate Athletic Association title after trouncing Chico State 82-70 last weekend.
After starting the season with back-to-back losses to Division I programs (Fresno State and University of Pacific) by a total of 15 points combined, the Stanislaus squad rallied and went 21-6 afterwards, as they jumped their way into an NCAA West Regional tournament appearance as the seventh-seeded squad.
“I feel this group is very hungry, very hungry and they want to continue, they don’t want to stop playing,” Stanislaus head coach Larry Reynolds said. “From the administration down, everyone has been very supportive. We are trying to make a statement but it is tough in this game to win all the time.”
After Friday's semifinal win over top seeded Cal State San Bernardino, the Warriors had matched the school's Division II win-total record of 20, set twice in the 1986-87 and 1992-93 seasons. The 21 wins tied a school record in victories, matching the record set by the 1988-89 team in the program's final season as a Division III program.
“I didn’t know how big of a deal it was to make it to the conference tournament and then to win it… it was an amazing feeling, probably one of the happiest times of my life,” Turlock High graduate Alek Carlson said.
The Warriors were led all season long by a handful of players, but it was the 5-foot, 8-inch point guard their senior Sam Marcus who was a true difference maker.
He didn’t lead the Warriors in scoring or rebounding in any of the three games won by the Warriors at the CCAA Tournament but he did, clearly, lead the team and was introduced as the Most Valuable Player of the event.
Marcus has also been efficient from the field knocking down .500 of his shots while posting a .444 three-point shooting percentage and is the team leader in assists per game with nearly 4.5 to go with his 8.5 points per game.
Along with Marcus, juniors Marcus Bell, Chris Read and Rob Walters have played vital roles that have led to the success of Stan State. Combined, Bell, Read and Walters average nearly 40 points per game, more than half of the teams total per game (73.5).
“Honestly I think nobody expected us to do much, but we really did some crazy things that made everyone want to come out and it was really cool though,” Bell said. “All we did was just go out there and play really hard and learn to stick together and have a positive attitude. All I want to do is win.”
Bell, a Division I transfer from the University of Idaho, has been an absolute monster in the paint as he is the CCAA leader in rebounds per game with 10.6 and third in scoring with 17.7. Walters is third in rebounds a game with 7.5.
“I feel I helped changed the game flow a bit but without my teammates we wouldn’t have won or been as successful as we have been thus far. The fans and the students have helped as they have encouraged us and gave us a boost and intensity by feeding off the crowd so it was really good and fun that we had as many people come out and watch us play,” Bell added.
With a deep bench that play large minutes for the Warriors, Carlson entered his sophomore year and has played in all but two games this season, along with two starts.
Carlson made a critical three-point shot along his defensive contribution in the Conference title game and has been huge off the bench as he averages over 13 minutes per game.
“This team is much more competitive between ourselves at practice because of our depth. We are a lot bigger and deeper this year,” Carlson said. “We have nine guys that could start to a lot of teams in the conference. We have a lot of depth and that helps us, because when they bench players we don’t lose too much.”
Last month, the Warriors found themselves losing games in back-to-back nights against Cal State San Bernardino and UC San Diego by a total of four points and knew that something wasn’t right because they were unable to finish.
“That streak was after we had lost back-to-back and we had a players meeting and that helped us come together and we have been playing great since then,” Carlson said.
Over the last 13 games, including the playoffs, the Warriors are 10-3, with those losses coming by three points or less.
“We are very confident right now. I feel we have one of the best teams in the nation this year. We are on a roll and playing well and together and we feel we can beat anybody with the way we have been playing,” Carlson said.
The Warriors of Stanislaus will play number two seeded Seattle Pacific (26-5) in the opening round on Friday with a starting time of 2:30 p.m. at the Coussoulis Arena in San Bernardino. The semifinals will follow on Saturday while the Championship game is scheduled for Monday.
It will be no easy task for the Warriors to make a run but coach Reynolds feels they could be that Cinderella team and go as far as they choose. The Warriors had made five trips to the Division III tournament between 1981 and 1989.
“Our guys are capable, we just have to go out and do it,” Reynolds added. “I think we wanted to have a successful season this year and I think we have the chance to, it’s something we want to show the people.”